Sugar: Are you Consuming Too Much?

CBS News 60 Minutes program aired a story on 4/1/2012 entitled
“Is Sugar Toxic?”.
To see the segment or a transcript of the segment please click here “Is Sugar Toxic?”.

Are all sugars bad?

No, but sugars add calories and zero nutrients to food. Adding a limited amount of sugars to foods that provide important nutrients—such as whole-grain cereal, flavored milk or yogurt—to improve their taste, especially for children, is a better use of added sugars than nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.

How can I tell by looking at a nutrition facts panel if a product has added sugars?

Current nutrition labels don’t list the amount of added sugars (alone) in a product. It will be important for policy makers, the food industry and other public health groups to create dialogue regarding how to make assessing added sugars simpler for consumers.

The line for “sugars” you see on a nutrition label includes both added and naturally occurring sugars in the product. Naturally occurring sugars are found in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose). Any product that contains milk (such as yogurt, milk, cream) or fruit (fresh, dried) contains some natural sugars.

But you can read the ingredient list on a processed food’s label to tell if the product contains added sugars. Names for added sugars on labels include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

    What are added sugars?

    Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. They do not include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in milk (lactose) and fruits (fructose).

    Added sugars (or added sweeteners) include natural sugars (such as white sugar, brown sugar and honey) as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).

    What is the difference between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars? Simple and complex carbohydrates?

    Added sugars include any sugars, or caloric sweeteners that are added to a food during processing. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose).
    All carbohydrates are made up of units of sugar (“saccharride”). Carbohydrates containing only one unit of sugar (called “monosaccharides”) or two units of sugar (called “disaccharides”) are known as simple sugars or simple carbohydrates.
    Simple sugars are quickly broken down and provide a very fast increase in blood sugar, while complex carbs take longer and cause blood sugar to rise more gradually.
    Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas, etc.) breads, cereals, rice and grains. Complex carbs are broken down into the simple sugars during digestion, which causes them to be processed more slowly in the body.

    Why are sugars added to food?

    Sugars are often added to food during processing to improve the taste of certain foods.

    What does the AHA recommend as a limit for daily added sugars intake?

    Your daily discretionary calorie allowance consists of calories available after meeting nutrient needs—these calories don’t contribute to weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance come from added sugars. For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men).

    Sugar’s primary role in the body is to provide energy (calories). To get the nutrients you need, eat a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, poultry and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Typically, foods high in added sugars do not have the nutrients the body needs and only contain extra calories.

    How many calories are in 1 teaspoon (tsp) of sugar?

    One teaspoon (tsp) of sugar has about 4 grams of sugar and 16 calories.

    How much added sugars do most Americans consume?

    A report from the 2001–04 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) database showed that Americans get about 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day or about 355 calories. This number has increased steadily over the past three decades. Teens and men consume the most added sugars.

    A major contributor of added sugars to American diets are soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

    What are discretionary calories?

    You have a daily energy need—the amount of calories (or energy units) your body needs to function and provide energy for your activities. Think of it as a budget. You’d organize a real budget with “essentials” (for example, rent and utilities) and “extras” (for example, vacation and entertainment). In a daily calorie budget, the essentials are the minimum number of calories you need to meet your nutrient needs.

    Select low-fat and no-sugar-added foods to make good “buys” with your budget. Depending on the foods you choose and the amount of physical activity you do each day, you may have more calories left over for “extras” that can be used on treats like solid fats, added sugars and alcohol. These are discretionary calories, or calories to be spent at your discretion.

    A person’s discretionary calorie budget varies depending on how physically active they are and how many calories they need to consume to meet their daily nutrient requirements.

    How are the remaining discretionary calories consumed if not as added sugars?

    Discretionary calories are in addition to those that supply the nutrients to your body for daily function and activity. Your body does not actually need them to function. Common sources of discretionary calories (in addition to added sugars) are fats, oils and alcohol. Fats are the most concentrated source of calories.

    Discretionary calories can be used to:

    • Eat additional foods from a food group above your daily recommendation.
    • Select a higher-calorie form of a food that’s higher in fat or contains added sugars (whole milk vs. skim milk or sweetened vs. unsweetened cereal).
    • Add fats or sweeteners to the leanest versions of foods (for example, sauce, dressing, butter/margarine).
    • Eat or drink items that are mostly fat, sugar or alcohol such as candy, cake, beer, wine or regular soda.

      What is energy density and how do added sugars affect it?

      Energy density refers to the number of calories (or amount of energy) per serving of a food. Because sugars contain calories (one teaspoon of white sugar has about 16 calories), the more sugar in a food, the more calories, or energy, that food will have.

      A similar-sounding term, nutrient density, refers to the amount of nutrients per serving of a food (nutrients are materials a body needs to function healthfully—for example, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals). Foods that are highly nutrient-dense are good for your body. Ideal foods are low in energy density (calories) but highly nutrient-dense. Foods that are lacking in nutrients are often referred to as “empty calories.”

      Because added sugars contain calories but no nutrients, they are energy-dense and nutrient-poor.

      To improve the overall quality of Americans’ diets, the American Heart Association recommends people consume foods with more nutrients and less calories.

      What foods and beverages are the main sources of added sugars in Americans’ diets?

      Regular soft drinks; sugars and candy; cakes, cookies, pies; fruit drinks (fruitades and fruit punch); dairy desserts and milk products (ice cream, sweetened yogurt, and sweetened milk); and other grains (cinnamon toast and honey-nut waffles).

      Does this mean I should avoid all soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages?

      You can choose how to spend your discretionary sugars calories.

      Regular soft drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugars in Americans’ diets. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains an estimated 130 calories (or 8 teaspoons) of added sugars. People who consume lots of sugar-sweetened beverages eat too many sugar calories which can add up quickly and tend to gain weight. Carefully monitor the number of calories you get from sodas and other sources of added sugars.

      How can added sugars be used (within the recommended limits) to enhance the quality of people’s diets?

      Sugars promote enjoyment of meals and snacks. When sugars are added to nutrient-rich foods, such as flavored milks, studies have shown that the quality of children’s diets improves and there is no negative impact on their weight.

      How do added sugars affect the quality of an individual’s diet?

      Some studies show that eating large amounts of added sugars is associated with diets low in calcium, vitamin A, iron and zinc. Also, diets that are high in added sugars are typically low in fiber. This is important because increasing dietary sources of fiber is associated with decreasing energy intake, which can result in weight loss.

      Why are “liquid calories” and “solid calories” different?

      Some studies suggest that drinking too many calories is even more likely to cause weight gain than calories from solid foods. It is suggested that liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories consumed from solid foods, so people tend to consume more fluid calories to compensate. As a result, reducing liquid calorie intake has a stronger effect on weight loss than reducing solid calories.

      Drinking calorie-containing beverages is connected with overweight and obesity. People should carefully monitor the calories they drink and get enough water to maintain proper hydration every day.

      What are the American Heart Association’s new (January 2010) recommendations for sugar-sweetened beverages?

      The American Heart Association recommends that all Americans consume no more than 450 calories (36 oz) per week from sugar-sweetened beverages.  The new recommendations are one component in a suite of cardiovascular measurements developed by the American Heart Association to determine if Americans are improving their cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020.

      Do the recommendations to limit sugar-sweetened beverages to no more than 450 calories per week apply to children?

      This calorie limit is based on a daily 2000-calorie diet. Daily calorie needs and discretionary calorie levels vary for all individuals, including children, so the recommendations for sugar-sweetened beverages for young children will generally be lower due to their lower energy needs. Some older, very active children may require 2000 calories and for those children, the 450 calorie limit does apply.

      This limit is very important, especially in light of the fact that the rate of childhood obesity has increased and sugar-sweetened soft drinks are relatively high in calories for small children. It is essential to help our children eat a healthy diet and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. The obesity epidemic among children has caused children to experience adult conditions, such as elevated cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes at younger ages.

      Since diet sodas and other products made of non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners contain 0 calories from added sugars does that mean they can be consumed freely?

      You can drink diet sodas in moderation, but they don’t give you any nutrition. Balance them with a variety of whole foods and beverages that provide a range of important nutrients.

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